***A/N: I've had this idea in my head for awhile but didn't want to post it before completing the current two stories I was doing, but you know how it is when the muse wants what it wants. Chapter 1 is where the story actually begins. In this story, Morgan is the permanent Unit Chief of the BAU and the reasons why will become clear in the prologue. Hope you will read and review. I do not own Criminal Minds nor it's characters, but I do the DVDs and enjoy watching them. So enjoy.***
"You don't go around grieving all the time, but the grief is still there and always will be" - Nigella Lawson.
It was three years ago; three years ago today, May 14, that it happened; that the members of the Behavioral Analysis Unit was shattered and forced to regroup after what happened. It was on this May 14 three years ago that Supervisory Special Agent Aaron Hotchner, known as Hotch to his friends and co-workers, had vanished without a trace while he and his team were working a case involving a string of murders of young women all of whom had been former patients in a mental hospital, were recently discharged, and their deaths made to resemble suicides. It was on this day every year for the past three years that Hotchner's former team got together after work wherever they were, and went to a local bar to share a drink in memory of their fallen comrade even though they had no idea if he was even dead; and this year was no different. They remembered the details as if what happened had occurred earlier that day. How would or could they ever forget?
The UnSubs were a married couple; of that much they were positive even if they didn't have any photos of them or a description for that matter. They had been responsible for the deaths of eight women so far and had kidnapped another victim, a young woman named Traci Hopson, twenty-one years of age with blond hair and green eyes. She had been recently released from the same mental hospital as the others within the last thirty days before her disappearance. And though they searched high and low with no success, they finally got a break on Hopson's whereabouts when somebody called the FBI tip line as to where they could find the girl as well as the address. It was that information that led Hotch and his team consisting of Rossi, Morgan, Prentiss and Reid to drive out to the address which they soon discovered was a two-story house. Hotch assigned Reid, Morgan and Rossi to search the upper level while he and Prentiss took the lower level.
Going inside through the front door, Hotch motioned for Prentiss to follow him as the others quietly made their way up the narrow stairwell. Reaching the second level, the three agents split up to search the rooms for any sign of their hostage or UnSubs while below, Hotch motioned for Prentiss to search three of the rooms at one end of the long hall while he took the others down the long hall and located around the corner from where she was.
"Be careful," he whispered.
"You too," she replied.
Having separated, Prentiss had searched one of the three rooms and found nothing. But the minute she entered the second room, a red flag went up as the feeling she was being watched was felt. The feeling became stronger as she slowly continued searching the room. She suddenly heard a sound behind her causing her to spin around, Glock aimed and steady, but saw nobody. Something wasn't right she told herself when another sound behind her caused her to spin around again and again nothing. Then, something struck the back of her head hard causing a sudden burst of pain and stars to appear in front of her eyes. The last thing she was aware of was a pair of hands catching her before her body hit the floor and then darkness overtook her.
She awoke slowly at the sound of somebody shaking her shoulder and voices calling her name; but her eyes, once open a crack, had trouble focusing. She knew she recognized the voices saying her name. She slowly turned onto her side and winced with the movement.
"Easy, Prentiss," a different voice said softly. But there was a sense of urgency as well.
Emily, with help from a pair of strong hands, managed to get herself up into a half-sitting position. She touched the back of her head with a hand and winced when she felt the tender lump.
"Emily, where's Hotch?" asked the voice she heard the first time. Closing her eyes for a few seconds she re-opened them and looked up at who had just spoken.
"Rossi?" she squeaked. "Is that you?"
"It's me," David Rossi said.
"How long have I been unconscious?" she asked. Even speaking was painful.
"At least thirty minutes," Morgan informed her. "Emily, do you know where Hotch is?"
Emily saw the worried look on her friend's face and became worried herself. "I don't know," she began. "We…we split up after you guys went upstairs. He ordered me to check the three rooms at this end while he checked the other rooms around the corner. Why?" Her eyes shifted from Rossi to Morgan who was kneeling on one knee. "Has something happened?" She saw Morgan and Rossi trade looks. "Somebody better say something and quick."
"We finished searching the top level and found nothing," Morgan began slowly. "We decided to come downstairs and join you and Hotch and help you search down here. We found you unconscious on the floor but, there's no sign of Hotch anywhere."
"What do you mean there's no sign of Hotch anywhere?" Emily asked as she struggled to her feet with Morgan's help. "He has to be here. He went down the other end of the hall and around the corner where the other rooms were to search for Traci. He can't have just vanished into thin air."
"Trust me, Emily," Rossi explained. "We searched every room on this level. Hotch is gone with no indication where."
"What about Traci Hopson? Did you find her at least?" Prentiss asked.
Rossi nodded. "We found her upstairs in an attic apartment tied to a chair and in a catatonic state. She's not responding to anything or anybody and she isn't making any eye contact with anybody. Reid is with her until the ambulance gets here. And I'm gonna make sure they check you out too."
"I'm fine," Emily argued. "We need to find Hotch. He has to be here somewhere. He wouldn't just leave without saying something." She staggered a bit but caught herself before she lost her balance.
"No you're not and no he wouldn't," Rossi added firmly. "Not voluntarily anyway."
Emily's head quickly spun towards Rossi's and she immediately regretted the movement and winced. "You think the UnSubs have him?" she asked worriedly.
"We're not sure," Rossi said. "Did you see anybody while you and Hotch were searching? Anybody at all."
"But what?" asked Morgan. "You saw somebody?"
"No, but when I was searching this room, I had the feeling somebody was watching me. And then I heard a noise behind me and turning around didn't see anybody. Then after hearing another noise behind me, I turned again and that's when somebody struck me from behind."
Rossi exhaled through his nose as he looked at Morgan. "Then I believe it's safe to assume our UnSubs have Hotch."
That was three years ago. Once the catatonic girl had been taken by ambulance to the hospital, and more agents and the local police were ordered to the scene, a more thorough search was conducted by all with the same results. There was no sign of the UnSubs or of the missing FBI agent.
After awhile, the BAU had no choice but to return home to Quantico, Virginia. It nearly killed them to have to leave without their Unit Chief and friend; but they had no choice in the matter. But despite being back in Quantico, they continued checking into all leads regarding Hotch's disappearance as well as searching for the UnSubs. They were positive finding one would lead to the other. However, soon after cases began filtering in faster thus reducing the time they could spend on searching for Hotch, and they spent whatever free time they had in-between cases to track down any and all leads.
However, after a few months of fruitless searching, several things happened. Leads began to dry up, and Supervisory Special Agent Derek Morgan was promoted by Section Chief Erin Strauss to the position of Unit Chief. However, Derek only accepted the position offered by Strauss on one condition; and that was that he would be the Acting Unit Chief until Hotch was found and if he wanted the position back, then Morgan would gladly step down and let him have it. Strauss hesitated not wanting to seem too agreeable to the proposition; but Morgan knew he had her right where he wanted her because even though she threatened to give the position to David Rossi, he knew Rossi didn't want it, and neither Reid, Prentiss or JJ qualified. So unless she wanted to go outside the BAU she would have no choice but to accept his proposition. In the end she did with the promise that if Hotchner was found alive and wanted his position back, it was his with the knowledge that Morgan would go back to his regular position as Hotch's subordinate.
Three years later the inevitable happened; with no sign of Hotchner or the UnSubs and no indication as to whether Hotchner was even still alive, Section Chief Erin Strauss had no choice. She gathered the BAU team in her office and reluctantly informed them that after three years with no leads, the investigation into the disappearance of SSA Aaron Hotchner was to cease effective immediately, and that he was presumed dead. There were arguments raised at that point by the others and Strauss made it clear she didn't necessarily agree with the decision and could understand how they felt; but she had no choice. Also, Morgan who up to now had been the Acting Unit Chief, was made the new Unit Chief replacing Aaron Hotchner permanently effective immediately.
Morgan inwardly grimaced. He always hoped to one day make Unit Chief and have his own team, but never at the expense of his friend and mentor, Aaron Hotchner. He had always thought he would get Hotch's position when the man stepped down, but not like this. And there wasn't even any proof he was dead. With these things out of the way, Strauss ordered them to return to work. The team quietly left their seats and returned to the sixth floor, each one lost in his or her own thoughts. As they rode in the elevator back to the sixth floor, Morgan looked around at the team, now his team, and after taking and letting out a deep breath, spoke calmly.
"I don't care what Strauss says, I refuse to consider Hotch deceased. So what we're going to do is to discreetly continue to investigate any lead, no matter how slim, until we find him."
JJ wiped at something in her eye. "You still believe after all this time he's still alive?" she asked quietly trying to keep control of her emotions.
Morgan paused before he answered as he chose his words carefully. "I don't know, JJ. I really don't. But right now I'd be happy knowing one way or the other even if the other means he's dead. But what I can't accept is not knowing at all." Looking at the others he saw they were all in agreement; then they all exchanged looks with each other.
And the team did exactly that for an additional four months; but then the leads went away completely and they also had less and less time to look into Hotch's disappearance. It was then that while they hated to admit defeat, and as much as they had difficulty accepting it, each slowly came to the same conclusion, and that was it was time to mark the case "CLOSED', presume Aaron Hotchner was probably dead, and move on with their lives.
The day the case was officially closed, the entire team: Morgan, Rossi, JJ, Prentiss, Reid and Garcia, all left work at the end of the day and gathered together at the local bar frequented by FBI agents, to have a couple of drinks to not only honor their fallen teammate, but to bury the pain each of them was feeling. Once seated in a booth in the back with their drinks in front of them, they talked about their former Unit Chief.
"I can't believe Hotch's life would end this way," Garcia said with a trembling lower lip.
"None of us can, baby girl," Morgan replied. He took a sip of his Scotch on the rocks. "Y'know, I hoped one day to maybe be in charge of this team, but not this way. Not like this. Not at the expense of Hotch." He hung his head and shook it.
JJ took a drink of her white wine and sighed. "Derek, you have nothing to feel guilty about," she explained. "You were the logical choice to replace Hotch." She then wiped her cheek feeling a tear roll down. "I still find it hard to think of Hotch as being gone. It just doesn't seem real to me."
"I know what you mean," Rossi added before he took a drink of bourbon and sat the glass down in front of him. "Aaron is…was my best friend for years, and I always thought he and I would have either retired at the same time, or that he would not too long after I did again. I never thought he would just….disappear never to be seen again."
Prentiss took a sip of her beer as she looked at Spencer Reid who, up until now, had been extremely quiet. "Reid, you've quiet all day. You all right?"
Reid shrugged his shoulders as he gently turned his glass of club soda around and around carefully on the table. He didn't look at anybody. "Doesn't matter," he said softly.
"Speak up, kid," Morgan urged draping an arm around the younger agent's shoulders. "What's bothering you?"
Reid swallowed the lump in his throat. "After Gideon left, Hotch became the closest thing to a father I had. He promised he would always be there for me. And now he isn't."
"And he would've, Spence," said JJ looking at her close friend. "It's not like he just up and left like Gideon. He didn't plan on leaving."
"I know," Reid said now staring at his drink. "It's just every time I let somebody in, they leave. Only this time Hotch didn't even have a chance to say goodbye."
Garcia patted Reid's hand as she took a drink of her beer. "Just keep in mind, my junior G-man, that unlike Gideon, Hotch didn't just take off without giving advance notice. He was taken from us. That doesn't leave any time for goodbyes. Just remember he didn't leave because he wanted to."
Then, each person recalled something about Aaron Hotchner that meant something to that person. Reid was the first one to speak.
"I was just thinking of when you guys found me after Tobias Henkel," said Reid softly, lower lip trembling. "When you guys got to the cemetery, Hotch was the first one to hug me. I saw tears in his eyes even though to this day he'd probably deny it. He figured out my clue when I gave it and had selected him as the next to die. He knew. But it was the look in his eyes in that cemetery that told me how sorry he was that he hadn't been able to find me sooner to spare me from what Henkel did to me. And afterward, he spent as much time as he could with me at the hospital and when I had my uh…problem. He always made time for me to make sure I was all right or if I needed to talk. I'll never forget his patience and caring. Never."(1)
Morgan took another sip of his drink. "I remember that, kid." He smirked. "I remember when I had that trouble in Chicago after being arrested for killing a child. Hotch was a real hard ass and on my case for keeping secret that I had been sexually molested by Carl Buford. But never once did he turn his back on me during that whole nightmare or even afterward when he could have reported me to Strauss for lying on my application to the bureau. But he didn't, and I will always be grateful to him for that despite giving him a hard time. Man, I was this close to decking him in that interrogation room in the police station when he kept buttin' in after I told him to drop it." Morgan held his thumb and forefinger less than an inch apart.(2)
"I know what you mean, my dark hero," Garcia answered with a smile and gripping Morgan's hand. "I felt the same way after I was shot that time and Hotch found out about that encrypted file on my computer at work. I mean, he had every reason to fire me but he didn't. He didn't even report me to Strauss. By all rights he should have and by keeping it secret jeopardized his own job. But he stuck by me. And I'll never be able to ever thank him enough for having that faith in me when nobody ever had before then."(3).
JJ smiled sadly as she looked at Reid who managed to look at the blond media liaison when she touched his hand. "Remember when you, Rossi and Morgan were in Las Vegas when you suspected your father had possibly killed a child?"
"What about it?" Reid asked.
"What I never told you was that I went into labor while in Garcia's office; she suspected it right away but I dismissed it because the baby wasn't due for another three weeks. I was training Jordon Todd to replace me in three weeks, but apparently the baby had other ideas. Somehow she got me to Hotch who drove like a maniac to get me to the hospital in record time. He then called Will, waited with me and held my hand the entire time until Will was able to get there. Hotch never left my side. I guess it was because he's a father and knew what had to be done. He was yelling at everybody to make sure I had whatever I needed before the baby came." She smiled. "Funny thing is he was so sweet despite being a nervous wreck even though he was a father himself. He was wonderful the way he took charge," she looked at Garcia. "Not that you weren't great as well, Pen…."
"That's okay, my blond Goddess," said Penelope patting her hand with a smile. "It was fun to watch the boss man take charge and scare everybody to death in the hospital that day."(4)
"I could picture that happening," Rossi remarked. "I remember how supportive he was of me when we had that case in my hometown. I didn't want to go back there since it involved a part of my life I rather have left behind but he couldn't. So I went and had to reconnect with some people I really could have avoided seeing after all those years. After we caught one of the two UnSubs, and were headed back to Quantico, Hotch and I talked in the back of the plane where we were alone. We talked about how I wished I had married the woman Judge Shuler had married when I had the chance and then we talked about what Hotch would do after we caught Foyet and Haley and Jack came back. I then told him about those connections I had hoped to avoid seeing again. He listened patiently and didn't say anything at first. Then he looked at me and said as far as he was concerned, there was no need for Strauss to know because he wasn't worried that I might betray the bureau or him one day with those connections, and that it would stay between him and me. I always knew Aaron was a good friend, but that day, he showed me how much of a good friend he truly was, and I'll never be able to thank him enough for just listening."(5)
Prentiss shook her head before tossing back her dark tresses over her shoulder. "I remember when Reid and I went undercover with that religious cult and I had to tell Cyrus I was an FBI agent before he shot Reid," she said. "After everything was over, I was sitting in the ambulance having my injuries tended to, and Hotch walked over. He looked so stricken you'd think he had been the one who beat me. The guilt was written all over his face. All he could say over and over was 'I'm sorry.' "
Reid looked guiltily at the raven-haired agent. "I remember that. I felt so bad what happened to you. You never should have said anything."
"Reid, you think I'd let Cyrus shoot you? No way. If I had to do it again I'd do the same thing without hesitation. So don't feel guilty. You were not to blame, Cyrus was, and I won't let you keep blaming yourself. Understand?"
"Yes, ma'am," Reid replied softly, still feeling guilty.
"Besides…." Prentiss continued. "Hotch apologized enough for all of us. It took me the entire plane ride back to Quantico to get him to stop blaming himself even though I suspected he still did but just didn't say it out loud anymore. He was always blaming himself for everything that endangered us or got one of us hurt. He was just so damn protective of all of us." She sighed wearily. "That's only one of the things that made him who he was and someone you would be eager to work for."(6)
"And on that note," Rossi said with a sigh. Slowly getting to his feet, he picked up his glass and held it up; the others following his lead. He chose his next words carefully.
"In memory of our teammate, Aaron Hotchner; the best friend, team leader, Unit Chief, father and husband anybody could ask for. You were taken from us much too soon, my friend. Rest in peace." Then, he and the others all clinked their glasses together.
A few days later life slowly began to return to normal in the BAU, with the exception that Aaron Hotchner's name was rarely mentioned anymore except on that special day every year when the team got together after work only because it was just too painful. But soon, a case would come their way which would turn the lives of Derek Morgan's team upside down, and reopen old wounds with shocking and unbelievable results.
(1)Tobias Henkel is from the episodes REVELATIONS and THE BIG GAME, season 2. I made up the scene after Reid and Hotch hugged in the cemetery.
(2)Morgan was arrested for the death of a child in PROFILER, PROFILED, season 2. I made up the discussion between him and Hotch about Morgan concealing his past from the bureau.
(3)Garcia was shot in PENELOPE, season 3. I made up the added discussion between Garcia and Hotch over her encrypted file.
(4)JJ had her baby in MEMORIAM, season 4. I made up Hotch's actions after he and Garcia got JJ to the hospital after she went into labor.
(5)Rossi revisited his 'old life' in RECKONER, season 5. I made up the part of the discussion Rossi had with Hotch about his 'past life' involving a friendship with someone in the mob.
(6) Prentiss being beaten by Cyrus is from MINIMAL LOSS, season 4. I made up the conversation between Prentiss and Hotch.